Project Canterbury

Sermons on the Black Letter Days
Or Minor Festivals of the Church of England
by John Mason Neale

London: Joseph Masters, 1872. Third edition.


Translation of S. Martin. July 4.


I SHALL have to speak to you of S. Martin himself, by GOD'S grace, in November. To-day is kept in memory of his Translation, that is, of the removal of his body from the grave, where it had at first been buried, into a church built to receive it. Therefore we are led to-day to think how much care the Church takes of the bodies of her saints, because they were once the temples of the HOLY GHOST, and because she knows that they will rise again to glory in the last day.

Now I am afraid that there are many persons, who say that they believe in the Resurrection, and who do believe in it after a sort, who yet do not really feel that it is the very same bodies which we now have, the very same flesh, and skin, and bones,--which will rise again at the Judgment Day. If they were honestly to say what they believe, it would be that at the Resurrection we should have something like our present bodies, something that would do as well,--not that we should be exactly as we are now,--the same body, the same soul, joined together, never more to be separated. Yet as it was with our LORD, so it will also be with us. "Handle Me," He said to His Apostles, "and see: for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see Me have." And so truly and perfectly had He a body like ours, after His Resurrection, that we even read how He ate of a broiled fish and of a honey-comb.

The differences between our bodies as they are now, and as they will be then, are only three: let us see what they are.

In the first place, they can no more sin. This is certain: because, if they could sin, we might be cast out of heaven. But if we once enter that blessed place, we can never be driven out. In S. John's Revelation we read, "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the Temple of My GOD, and he shall go no more out." And S. Paul says, "So shall we ever be with the LORD." No: heaven would be no heaven if we could lose it. But we are told expressly, "He that is dead hath ceased from sin." Think now what a great multitude of sins come from the body, and so enter into the soul, and then think what a blessed and glorious thing it will be when they are all cast off for ever! Sin came into the world by the body,--namely, by gluttony; the first thing that Eve saw concerning the forbidden fruit was, that it was good for food. But after the Resurrection, no more slothfulness, no more gluttony, no more impurity; the former things shall be passed away. That is the chief change. The body, which was always hindering us in GOD'S service here, will there help us in it. It cannot grow weary, it cannot interrupt us by its own feelings; there we shall truly and perfectly "glorify GOD in our body and in our spirit, which are GOD'S."

The next great difference is, that the body will be incorruptible. This does not only mean that it can never die, but it tells us a great deal more. Here, in this world, our bodies are wearing out day by day; and therefore day by day we have to keep them up by food, and by rest. But there, they cannot wear out; therefore they will not want food nor rest; at least that is the belief of the Church. Rest, we know they do not want; for S. John tells us that "they rest not day nor night." And since our LORD has told us that they who shall be counted worthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven " shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but shall be like the Angels," it seems most likely that they will also be like the Angels in not requiring meat and drink. But it is certain there can be no weariness; it is certain there can be no sickness: "the inhabitant," says Isaiah, "shall not say, I am sick:" it is certain there can be no age or decay. As a holy Bishop of old wrote in a hymn:

"Here they live in endless being,
Passingness has passed away;
Here they bloom, they grow, they flourish,
For decayed is all decay:
Life, and health, and strength have swallowed
Weakness, pain, and death for aye."

But there is yet a third difference between our bodies as they are now, and as they will be. All in heaven will be perfect. Therefore how can children, who have not come to perfection, or the old, like yourselves, who have long passed it,--how can they be found there? Now Holy Scripture tells us very little on this point.

But the belief of the Church is that the old will be raised again, not withered, and decayed, and worn out, but as they were when they were in the best part of their earthly lives; and that children will be raised, not as they were when they were laid in the grave, but as they would have been if they had been spared to their full growth and strength. You are to understand that this is not what we call "an article of faith;" that is, not a thing which a man must believe, or he cannot be saved. It is only what is generally named a "pious opinion:" that is, a belief which the Church recommends us to have, or praises us for having, but does not require us to hold. And there are one or two texts in the Bible which seem to say as much. Isaiah, speaking of heaven, says, "There shall be no more thence an infant, nor an old man." And S. Paul says that we shall be all in "the measure of the stature of the fulness of CHRIST." Now our LORD died for us in the very prime of life, at thirty-three years of age according to the flesh: therefore holy men have thought that at our resurrection we also shall awake up in the prime of life, even as our LORD did at His.

But now, what a thing is this which we say day by day, night by night, "I believe in the Resurrection of the body?" I believe, that is, that all the bodies that ever were or ever will be,--those that have mouldered quietly away in country churchyards, those that have been flung into great pits on fields of battle, those that are tossing about in the huge sea, those that have been burned, those that have been eaten by wild beasts, those that in plagues have been destroyed by quick-lime, those that have been swallowed by sea-monsters,--all will come together, muscle to muscle, bone to bone, limb to limb,--yes, and hair to hair, ("even the hairs of your head are all numbered:") of those hundreds of thousands of millions not one wrong, not one mistake; brought together from all parts of the earth, mountains, caves, seas, rivers, lakes, forests, churchyards; all arrayed as they were, all joined by His wisdom Who cannot be deceived. This is what we Christians believe in our Creed. As to the heathens, they laughed at the thought. S. Paul was preaching at Athens to the wisest people on the face of the earth. They listened when he spoke to them of the One GOD, Whom they ignorantly worshipped. But when he spoke of the Resurrection of the Dead," some mocked, and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter." Even the Jews, many of them, could not believe it. The Sadducees in our LORD'S time denied it. And indeed in the Old Testament there are only three clear promises of it. One of them is that glorious prophecy of Job's, which we heard the other day: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see GOD." The other is in Isaiah, where it is our LORD speaking: "Thy dead men shall live, together with My dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust; for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead." And the third is in Daniel: "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake." But all this our very children know. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings praise is ordained.

One thing more. To be with the LORD JESUS will be the great blessedness of heaven. But nevertheless it will be a blessedness to be with the holy men of old, and with those whom we have loved here. Some people have asked, whether we shall know each other, if we are counted worthy of that happy place? There is no kind of doubt that we shall. The rich man in the parable knew Abraham; and how is it possible that being the same as we have been, we shall not know each other? I might just as reasonably have doubted, when I was in a foreign country, and counting the days till I should return here, whether I should know you, whether you would remember me, when I came back.

Now to end. Remember to whom it is that these glorious things are promised: "They that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire." Have done evil? but how? Not, GOD forbid, those who have done any evil, else who could be saved? but those who have done evil and have not repented of it; but those who have persisted in sin, and gone out of the world in it: those who have quietly given themselves to be servants of the devil, they indeed shall go into everlasting fire. But not those who, though they have sinned, have sought forgiveness; not those who grieve and mourn for their evil doings, not those who are trying, with however many failures, to fight the good fight of faith. Only bear this in mind: there are but these two classes of persons, they that have done good, and they that have done evil. There is no middle class of indifferent persons, with an indifferent place, neither so good as heaven, nor so bad as hell, provided for them. GOD'S or the Devil's you must be. No man can serve two masters here, and every man shall receive the wages of that master whom he hath served, there.

GOD grant that we may then be found on the right hand, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake: to Whom with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

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